Here you will find commentaries on the meanings of verses and stories from Laozi, Zhuangzi and other early Taoists regarding their philosophies and practices. At the end of each month, all of the commentaries for that month will be posted in our BLOG.

September, 2021


“It’s all there”
a commentary

Instead of my usual review of the hexagrams of the “I Ching” for those personal qualities that each one promotes, I decided to do a commentary instead, not on the hexagrams or the “I Ching” but on deepening our clarity and discernment. Although it is not about any hexagram in particular, it was inspired by yesterday’s review of Hexagram #47, Kun, meaning Oppression or Exhaustion. What happens when we feel we are oppressed? We could be oppressed by an employer or a manager, by authoritarian figures, polictical figures, law enforcement, by society in general, or by ourselves, in the case of workholics for example. If this opporession is kept up long enough, it is bound to turn to exhaustion, and this is not conducive to either our physical or mental health or our spiritual growth and cultivation.

As I noted in my review yesterday, some commentators have suggested cheerfulness as an antidote for opporessed exhaution. But can anyone be truly cheerful when oppressed or exhausted or in the face of adversity? I suggested riding things out or, at the very least, try not to be despondent. But neither of those are viable solutions when one is bordering on depression. So, as I completed my morning incantations and took my shower, I suddenly realized no matter how negative things can get, it’s all there. Wait a second, hold on! What’s all there, and what’s all where?

I’m glad you asked. The short answer is not a solution but a process – a process to go within. Not to still your mind, but to still your jing – that energy which is your very essence. Once it stops overworking to balance the energy you lose through worry, nerve-racking stress, brain fog and despondent thoughts, the jing can settle down and energize your spirit instead of your nerves. So, before you reach for that cigarette or that chocolate cream donut, sit down instead and allow your breath to slow down and deepen. Don’t “DO” anything, just observe your breath as it slows down and deepens on its own accord. Observe it as it deepens all the way into the pit of your stomach, about two-fingers width beneath your navel and a couple of inches inward on the center line of your body. Once you feel it reaching that spot, then allow your mind to join with the breath.

Again, don’t do anything but simply observe as your awareness sinks with your breath into that spot. Allow your breath and your mind to move deeply, easily and softly, and lengthen as there is no rush. Allow them to take as long as they want. Now you are in that very “THERE,” that space within where all potential lies. The solution(s) to your situation, your Fate, if you will, is among that very potentiality. ‘It is all there.’

With clarity and discernment, you can discover the real truth within your situation and, more importantly, within the very ego, the overly conditioned, acquired mind that has woven this particular fate for you from your own perceptions of each and every experience you have ever had. See the truth of those perceptions and falsehoods of your beliefs they have formed. Once you see that, then the clarity and discernment necessary to either improve your situation or to break free altogether will arise.

So, again, don’t get mad and don’t get sad. Just sit, settle down, and allow your breath and your awareness to deepen. Great practicing, everyone!

March, 2020


Yesterday, despite the rising number of persons infected with the contagious COVID-19 virus and its alarming death rate, President Trump, nevertheless, stated that he wanted to see the nation back on its feet and ready to resume business as usual by Easter. However, many health experts decried the idea of putting a deadline of the pandemic. On this day alone, when over 200 persons have died from the virus, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, had a straight-forward response to Trump’s desire to have people return to work and get the economy up and running again: “You don’t make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline.”

For Trump, the economy is everything. His family businesses and his re-election all hinge on the economy improving. With people working from home and not venturing very far to get food and other necessities, Trump’s hotels and golf resorts are losing money, and his chances of being re-elected were dwindling by the day if not the hour. But, with a mere $2 trillion stimulus package all set to go, Wall Street is back up and roaring and, Trump’s approval rating has never been higher. So, what are a few hundred or maybe even a few thousand lives being sacrificed when the fate of the economy hangs in the balance?

To Trump, the economy is well worth the sacrifice – as long as its not his life or any of his family’s lives. But just how much should we value the economy? How many lives is the GDP worth?

Here are a few anecdotes from Book 3 of the Zhuangzi, Section 28 – “Giving Away A Throne.” Take a look at how one of the most profound philosophers of past or present would view that question:

“YAO WANTED TO CEDE THE EMPIRE to Hsu Yu, but Hsu Yu refused to accept it. Then he tried to give it to Tzu-chou Chih-fu. Tzu-chou Chih-fu said, “Make me the Son of Heaven? – that would be all right, I suppose. But I happen to have a deep-seated and worrisome illness which I am just now trying to put in order. So I have no time to put the empire in order.” The empire is a thing of supreme importance, yet he would not allow it to harm his life. How much less, then, any other thing!”

What about Emperor Shun? Did he fare any better?

“Shun tried to cede the empire to Shan Ch’uan, but Shan Ch’uan said, “I stand in the midst of space and time. Winter days I dress in skins and furs, summer days, in vine-cloth and hemp. In spring I plow and plant – this gives my body the labor and exercise it needs; in fall I harvest and store away – this gives my form the leisure and sustenance it needs. When the sun comes up, I work; when the sun goes down, I rest. I wander free and easy between heaven and earth, and my mind has found all that it could wish for. What use would I have for the empire? What a pity that you don’t understand me!” In the end he would not accept, but went away, entering deep into the mountains, and no one ever knew where he had gone.”

What a pity! Well, if at first, you don’t succeed…

“Shun wanted to cede the empire to his friend, the farmer of Stone Door. The farmer of Stone Door said, “Such vigor and vitality you have, My Lord! You are a gentleman of perseverance and strength!” Then, surmising that Shun’s virtue would hardly amount to very much, he lifted his wife upon his back, took his son by the hand, and disappeared among the islands of the sea, never to return to the end of his days.”

I think by now we are beginning to get the gist of Zhuangzi’s perspective on the value of human life. Here is one more anecdote that makes it quite clear.

“When the Great King Tan-fu was living in Pin, the Ti tribes attacked his territory. He offered them skins and silks, but they refused them; he offered them dogs and horses, but they refused them; he offered them pearls and jades, but they refused them. What the men of the Ti tribes were after was his land. The Great King Tan-fu said, “To live among the older brothers and send the younger brothers to their death; to live among the fathers and send the sons to their death – this I cannot bear! My people, be diligent and remain where you are. What difference does it make whether you are subjects of mine or of the men of Ti? I have heard it said, one must not injure that which he is nourishing for the sake of that by which he nourishes it.” Then, using his riding whip as a cane, he departed, but his people, leading one another, followed after him, and in time founded a new state at the foot of Mount Ch’i.

“The Great King Tan-fu may be said to have known how to respect life. He who knows how to respect life, though he may be rich and honored, will not allow the means of nourishing life to injure his person. Though he may be poor and humble, he will not allow concerns of profit to entangle his body. The men of the present age, if they occupy high office and are honored with titles, all think only of how serious a matter it would be to lose them. Eyes fixed on profit, they make light of the risk to their lives. Are they not deluded indeed?…

“Hence it is said, The Truth of the Way lies in looking out for oneself; its fringes and leftovers consist in managing the state and its great families; its offal and weeds consist in governing the empire. The accomplishments of emperors and kings are superfluous affairs as far as the sage is concerned, not the means by which to keep the body whole and to care for life. Yet how many gentlemen of the vulgar world today endanger themselves and throw away their lives in the pursuit of mere things! How can you help pitying them?”

Although Trump says he is a champion of Christian values and wishes to see all the churches filled on Easter Sunday morning despite the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems like he doesn’t really care to put those values into practice, at least, not when it comes to putting them ahead of the economy. I would say that, back in the day, Jesus’ words were much more aligned to Zhuangzi’s values than Trump’s

From Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

From Matthew 16:26: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

And finally, I will leave you with this to ponder – Jesus’ ultimatum to all of us:

From Mark 12:31: “The second (commandment) is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Speaking of loving your neighbor, especially in this time of need, let us not forget those whose fate has left them underprivileged, destitute or homeless and particularly susceptible to the COVID-19 virus. Visit to view the 10 charities that fight hunger across the country and around the world. Pick the ones where you feel your donation (whatever amount you can afford) will have the most benefit. 03/23/2020

In this uncertain and stressful time of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all concerned with our health and welfare as well as that of our families. Venturing to the local supermarket, donning gloves and protective masks, we stand in a long line upwards to an hour, only to find the shelves nearly bare when we finally get inside. How is it possible to care for ourselves and our families when the necessary supplies are so limited? Alcohol, antiseptic spray, toilet paper and paper towels are gone. Food items are also scarce. I have been looking for organic cauliflower florets, organic tempeh and a can of organic tomato paste for over a week now.

Cursing those greedy hoarders who scarfed up enough supplies to hideout in a mountain cave for six months, we trudge back to our vehicles and thank heaven that gas is in plentiful supply. No, we cannot consume it or wash our hands with it, but at least we can drive to the next supermarket and the one after that and the one after that.

I will not try to tell you that frustration is unbecoming a Taoist or most of us for that matter. It is quite normal being frustrated in these very frustrating times. Yes, and even somewhat angry, but to rant and rave about greedy hoarders or the incompetence of the President and his administration for not being prepared to handle this crisis will only zap our energy when we need it the most and do nothing to put lost wages in our bank accounts or additional food on our tables.

For some, this pandemic is beyond a crisis and has become a bleak tragedy. Many have lost their jobs or their businesses and sole income. Some will lose their homes or be forced to take on lifelong debt. Losing one’s livelihood is surely devastating, but even worse is losing one’s life. That is why I am writing this commentary today, on a day when, for the first time in America, 100 have died due to coronavirus infections.

All of us need to do our part to stop the spread of this deadly virus, both here in the U.S. and throughout the world. This is especially true for those of us who have not lost jobs or income. Some can work at home and still draw down a salary. Others have retirement savings or pensions to pull them through. While many of us feel stressed to varying degrees by the alienation and isolation forced on us in response to COVID-19, nevertheless, we can still function despite this inconvenience. Thus, we have the ability and means to look after and protect ourselves and our families. But beyond that, we must remember those who do not have the means to protect themselves from this deadly virus. These are the poorer, underprivileged members of our extended family – the indigent, the homeless, the elderly, the invalids, the starving and undernourished children both here and abroad. These are the ones we must strive to help.

Listen to the words of Laozi from Chapter 49 of the Tao Te Ching by an American translator:

“The sage’s heart is not unchangeable,
He makes his own the people’s heart and will,
To those who are good I, too, will be good,
To those who are not-good I will be good still,
Virtue is ever good;
Those who are faithful I will meet with faith,
The unfaithful also shall have my good will,
Virtue is our faithhood.
The sage dwells in the world, with thoughtfulness,
But his heart flows in sympathy with all,
The people turn their eyes and ears to him,
And are to him his children, great or small.”
– Translated by Isaac Winter Heysinger, 1903, Chapter 49

And here is another version from the same era but by a Chinese translator.

“The Sage has no self to call his own.
He makes the self of the people his self.
To the good I act with goodness;
To the bad I also act with goodness:
Thus goodness is attained.
To the faithful I act with faith;
To the faithless I also act with faith:
Thus faith is attained.
The Sage lives in the world in concord, and rules over the world in simplicity.
Yet what all the people turn their eyes and ears to,
The Sage looks after as a mother does her children.”
– Translated by Ch’u Ta-Kao, 1904, Chapter 49,

And finally a modern version of Chapter 49 by a Swedish translator.

“The sage has no concern for himself,
But makes the concerns of others his own.
He is good to those who are good.
He is also good to those who are not good.
That is the virtue of good.
He is faithful to people who are faithful.
He is also faithful to people who are not faithful.
That is the virtue of faithfulness.
The sage is one with the world,
And lives in harmony with it.
People turn their eyes and ears to him,
And the sage cares for them like his own children.”
– Translated by Stefan Senudd, 2011, Chapter 49

Though the translators are of three different nationalities and from two different eras, all three translations are very much the same. This is because Laozi’s message in Chapter 49 is universal. It spans time, distances, ethnicity, religions and philosophies. The message is clear: we are all one, we are all connected, not only the best of us but the worse as well. People of virtue treat all in a virtuous manner and make no exceptions or judgments. “The sage is one with the world, and lives in harmony with it.”

Thus, it is up to us in these dangerous times to look after those who cannot look after themselves. What can we do? Find ways to help out wherever we can. If there is an elderly person or a shut-in who lives nearby, ask if they need anything the next time you go to the supermarket. If you have time, perhaps you can volunteer your services at a local food bank. They need people to box meals and drivers to deliver them.

The other thing we can all do, even if we don’t have the time to become physically involved, is to contribute financially where our contribution will do the most good. The Spruce Eats is a website that lists the 10 charities that fight hunger both here in the U.S. and worldwide. The site lists what each organization does and provides a convenient link to each one. I try to contribute to several of these organizations whenever possible. Their websites list their status with Charity Navigator and also their current actions in response to the COVID-19 virus.

If you would like more information and ratings on these or other charities, you can check out Charity Navigator. See “We’re In This Together: Charity Navigator’s Response to COVID-19”

My wish for all my readers is to stay healthy, look after your loved ones and do what you can wherever you can. Thank you.


February, 2020


One of the more confusing aspects of Taoism is meditation. There have been so many methods proposed over the centuries, many by supposed Taoist mystics and sages, that it becomes difficult to know which one to practice faithfully. To overcome this problem, many practitioners will adopt a method from a tried-and -true sage like Laozi or Chuagzi. But this only deepens the problem by adding translation and interpretation to the mix. So, what I do to get around this confusion is to go straight to the source of Taoism – the I Ching, Book of Changes.

A couple days ago on February 26 and February 27, I posted two quotes from Wang Bi’s version of the Ta Chuan, which is the Commentary on the Book of Changes. The first one on February 26 tells a practitioner exactly what needs to happen in meditation:

“If one returns to the root of things, he would find quiescence there and discover all the world’s principles available to him”

Simple, right? No question about it, right? One is not searching for emptiness or the Void. One is not trying to silence the mind. One is simply looking to return to one’s root – the root or essence of all things. This is somewhat similar to the adage given by the great Indian sage and saint, Ramana Maharshi: “Who Am I?” Or, “What Am I?” will work just as well. Ramana’s “I” will directly lead to one’s root or essence.

The problem with the Maharshi’s method as well as the I Ching’s is trying to understand just how to get to this I or one’s root or, in the case of Buddism, emptiness or the Void. In all these instances, the meditator is seeking the ultimate experience, our very essence or nature, which is beyond our conscious capacity to understand or grasp. This Source of all Creation, which is often referred to as the numinous is so immense and so much greater than our own human nature that we tend to back off out of sheer terror.

Here is what the great Lutheran theologian and philosopher, Ralph Otto, wrote about the nouminous in his 1917 book, Das Heilige, and reprinted in English in 1923 under the title: Idea of the Holy: “The feeling of it may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship. It may pass over into a more set and lasting attitude of the soul, continuing, as it were, thrillingly vibrant and resonant, until at last it dies away and the soul resumes its “profane,” non-religious mood of everyday experience…It has its crude, barbaric antecedents and early manifestations, and again it may be developed into something beautiful and pure and glorious. It may become the hushed, trembling, and speechless humility of the creature in the presence of—whom or what? In the presence of that which is a Mystery inexpressible and above all creatures” 

Fortunately for Ta Chuan readers, the method was defined ages ago, and Wang Bi tells us exactly what that method is. So, on February 27, I posted the next passage from Wang Bi’s Commentary.

“If one enslaves his capacity for thought and deliberation just so he can seek ways to put things to use and if he disregards the need to make his person secure (intensify, elevate his virtue) just so he can sacrifice himself to achievement and fine reputation, then the more the spurious arises, the more principles will be lost, and the finer his reputation grows, the more obvious his entanglements will become.”

The first part of that is the method: “If one enslaves his capacity for thought and deliberation just so he can seek ways to put things to use and if he disregards the need to make his person secure (intensify, elevate his virtue) just so he can sacrifice himself to achievement and fine reputation. It is a two-part method. The first part – don’t enslave one’s capacity for thought and deliberation just so one can seek ways to put things to use – is our everyday, daily lifestyle. Don’t use up your mind’s capacity by seeking ways to improve your status in life or increase one’s achievements and enhance one’s reputation.

The second part is the meditative stage – do not disregard the need to make one’s person secure. In an earlier section, Wang Bi explains just what he means by “secure.” This does not mean the “secure” we have come to regard in modern society, a good job or position with plentiful income, a beautiful home, a luxury car and an SUV. Wang Bi’s “secure” means to “the exaltation of one’s virtue.” In this case, exaltation means to intensify or elevate.

So, this is the meditation. Instead of searching for emptiness, the Void, or even one’s root or essence, which not only can be terrifying but also impenetrable,one should look to one’s virtues and meditate upon them. Of course, first you must find them. Do you know what your virtues are? Are they clear? At first glance, you may think they are, but as you sit in meditation, you may find that is not the case. They may be somewhat hazy or weak. Go deeply into it and see how you can intensify them – not externally by practicing virtue as Confucius always advised – but internally the way Laozi and Chuangzi would advise. Don’t go around purposefully, consciously showing off your generous nature or your loving kindness. Don’t even visualize practicing virtue during your meditation. Instead, develop and intensify this internally – because virtue is you!  Virtue is exactly what one’s root or essence truly is. By doing this, your inner essence will burst forth unconsciously and rise up before you. Thus it will not be necessary to seek it.

To stress this fact, I will leave you with this quote from none other than Carl Jung: “The years… when I pursued the inner images were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life. Everything later was merely the outer classification, the scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything was then.”. 


January, 2020


This one is coming from my “better late than never” department by the Procrastinator-in-Chief. Since I waited until the last night of January to write this, I thought I had better make it a good one. So, I am combining all three Taoist classics: the I Ching, Laozi and Chuangzi essentially writing about one of the main principles of classic Taoist philosophy.

Let’s start with the I Ching. In the Richard Wilhelm/Cary Baynes translation of the Ta Chuan, the Great Treatise, Chapter XI section 5 states:

“Therefore there is in the Changes the Great Primal Beginning. This generates the two primary forces. The two primary forces generates the four images. The four images generate the eight trigrams.”

If we look at Chapter 42 of the Laozi, he is nearly stating the same principle:

“The Tao begets the One, the One begets two, two beget three, and three beget the myriad things. The myriad things bearing (on the back) Yin and embracing (in the front) Yang, form a unified harmony through the fusing of these vital forces.” (from Richard John Lynn’s translation of Wang Bi’s interpretation of the Tao-Te-Ching)

The Great Primal Beginning as the I Ching puts it and the One as Laozi states refer to the same principle called the Grand Ultimate or Taiji. This is the ridgepole or polar axis of the Tao. A ridgepole has a top and a bottom or an upper and a lower. Now the Tao is infinite and, therefore, has no dimensions, no upper, no lower, no top and no bottom. But in discussing it, we must use words and words relate to ideas and material things. So, we must imagine that the Tao has a center, and that center, no matter how vast or how minute, has an upper and a lower. This upper and this lower are the Tao’s two polar or primary forces Yang and Yin. Yang being the upper or the front of the Tao and Yin the lower or back of the Tao.

According to Wang Bi and other philosophers and commentators, the Tao is not the One, but It begets the One. So, we then, call it One. Since the Tao is non-being (nothingness, so to speak) and therefore has no form and can not be conceived by anything material including our minds. But we give it a name Tao and associate the primary number One with it, in order to speak about it

Discussing the term myriad things, Wang Bi asks, “What is it due to that they all ultimately become one. It is due to nothingness (wu). Because it is from nothingness that One comes, One can be called ‘nothingness.’ Because we have this word and because we have the One, how can there not be two? Because we have the One and have these two (the word One and the word Two) this consequently gives birth to three (the word One, the word Two and the One). The numbers involved in this transition from nothing to existence are all accounted for here. If one passes this point and keeps on going, any such path will not be the course of the Tao.

Chuangzi states practically the same thing: “Heaven and Earth were born at the same time I was, and the ten thousand things are one with me. We have already become one so how can I not be saying something?  The One and what I said about it make two, and two and the original One make three. If we go on this way, then even the cleverest mathematician can’t tell where we will end, much less the ordinary man. If by moving from non-being (wu, nothingness) to being (yu, existence), we get to three, how far will we get if we move from being to being? Better no to move but to let things be!” (from Burton Watson’s translation of the Chuangzi)

Prior to the above section, Chuangzi, to point out the futility of language, was discussing existence and postulated: “If there was a beginning, then there was a time before that beginning, and a time before the time which was before the time of that beginning. If there is existence, there must have been non-existence. And if there was a time when nothing existed, then there must have been a time when eve n nothing did not exist. All of a sudden, nothing came into existence. Could one then really say whether it belongs to the category of existence or of non-existence? Even the very words I have just now uttered – I cannot say whether they say something or not.”

Now back to our beginning and the I Ching for a closing word. As Wilhelm and Baynes point out, the One or taiji is the ridgepole – a simple, vertical line symbolizing the positing of oneness. The positing of oneness implies also a positing of duality, as pointed out above, a top and a bottom, an above and a below. Or if we turn over this vertical line, we have a horizontal line (-), and instead of a top and a bottom, we have a left and a right  Divide the line in the middle and we have our “Two,” a simple divided lime (–). These are now the “two primary forces,” the Yang and the Yin, which the eventually become the 64 hexagrams by pairing the simple straight line and the divided lines in various ways. These 64 hexagrams, in turn, speak to the outcomes of all the possible myriad situations in the human condition.

That’s it for now. But there is a lot more. We will look at more of it, next month. And by the way, have a Happy New Year!

December, 2019

Christmas Commentary, 2019


It is Christmas Eve 2019, a time for Joy, Love and Gratitude, not for hatred and fear. A time for getting together and sharing, not for division and tearing apart. 

But as I look back over this past year, it is with the greatest sadness that I have learned to deeply hate and despise. So, in a very profound way, I must thank Donald J. Trump this Christmas for this gift he has brought me. Yes, a greater gift than anything those three Wise Kings of the Orient brought to Bethlehem on that very first Christmas.  

No, I am not being facetious. I truly mean it. I am most grateful to King Trump of the Trump Dynasty for his gift of utter hatred that he has managed to bring out in me. It has made me realize – and I imagine more than a few others as well – how emotionally unbalanced I really am. And all the time I thought Trump was the unbalanced one, and I was well balanced emotionally. But he has managed over the year to bring out the deep negativity in me. Not only have I come to despise him but his enablers as well, many of whom also despise him but are so fearful of being ostracized by his tweets that they wholly support his corrupt, white supremacist ways, choosing security over integrity with total disregard for the rule of law. 

In that regard, I am most fortunate, for I am able to see what his presidency has done to me. And that is a profound gift, for I now know what I must work on in 2020 to balance my emotions. Hopefully, by next Christmas, I can truly say that I hate no one and have love for all without exception. Barring that, the least I hope for is a return to emotional neutrality.  

And so I say: Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday season to all, and to all a good night! 

November, 2019

11/28/2019 Thanksgiving Day

My one and only commentary this month comes appropriately on Thanksgiving Day. It is not exactly a commentary but commendation to all those ancient masters whose voices from antiquity speak and touch me deeply. It is their voices, their observances of which I read, absorb and comment on throughout the year. Therefore, I am most thankful to Laozi, Zhuangzi and those very ancient ones that came long before them who looked at the configurations of the Heavens and read their Signs and observed our Earth and uncovered its Patterns. Thus they came to understand the axiom of Life and Death and passed it along to the sages who succeeded them.

And I, too, would like to pass along my heartfelt thoughts to all of you as I wish you and all humanity (yes, including the President) a Happy and Joyous Thanksgiving.

In Stillness

One crow streaking across the overcast sky
in a damp and gloomy rain.
Then stillness
Moments later, two crows come together
and fly off in unison over the valley.

The young trees stand in perfect stillness,
then a sudden wind jolts them back and forth.
Moments later, they return to stillness,
as thought never disturbed.

A perfected heart-mind must be like this.
Resting in stillness and never moving
until inspired by “THE CHANGES”
in the flow of the Tao,
and always returning to stillness.

A perfected heart-mind never waits,
but rests in stillness.
For in waiting there is anticipation.
But in resting, there is a joyous stillness,
undisturbed by the machinations of an egoic will.

In that resting there is an intuitive knowing,
Not of knowledge,
but of a deep inner trust.
Only a restful heart-mind at peace
can sense the subtle fluctuations
in the flow of the Tao
In that inner trust there is virtue and power.

See Hexagram #61 Inner Trust and have a Happy and Joyous Thanksgiving.



I thought we would end October with a little diversion from Laozi and Zhuangzi and take a brief look at the most ancient Taoist text of all, the “I Ching” (the Book of Changes). Laozi, Confucius and Zhuangzi were all greatly inspired by the Changes. We might say that the Changes was the very root of their works and Chinese philosophy in general.

From Wang Bi’s Commentary on the I Ching (“Changes”) Appended Phrases, Part I, Section 4:

“The ancient sages created the “Changes” (the I Ching) to provide a paradigm of Heaven and Earth, and so it shows how one can fill in and pull together the Dao of Heaven and Earth. Looking up, we use it (the Changes) to observe the configurations of Heaven, and, looking down, we use it to examine the patterns of Earth. Thus, we understand the reasons underlying what is hidden and what is clear. We trace things back to their origins then turn back to their ends. Thus, we understand the axiom of Life and Death.” (The hidden and the clear involves images that have form and do not have form. Life and Death are a matter of fate’s allotment for one’s beginning and end.”

Wang Bi’s Commentary on Chapter 35, Dao De Ching:

The “Great Image” is the mother of the images of Heaven. (The images of Heaven are the sun, moon, planets and constellations. The “great Image” image is another way to refer to the Dao.) It is neither hot or cold, warm or cool. Thus, it can perfectly embrace the myriad things, and none suffers any harm…The great image is formless. As soon as there is a form, distinctions exist, and with distinctions, if something is not warm, it must be cool, if something is not hot, it must be cold. Thus, an image that has a form is not the great image (the Dao)”

Continuing Wang’s Commentary on the I Ching, Part 1, Section 4

“When material force consolidates into essence (jingqi), it meshes together, and with this coalescence, a person comes into being. When such coalescence reaches its end, disintegration occurs, and with the dissipation of one’s spirit (youhun), change occurs. If one thoroughly comprehends the principle underlying coalescence and dissipation, he will be able to understand the Dao of Change and Transformation, and nothing that is hidden will remain outside his grasp.”

In Section 5 of Wang’s Commentary, he analyzes the reciprocal process:

“The reciprocal process of yin and yang is called the Dao. What is this Dao? It is a name for non-being (wu); it is that which pervades everything and from which everything derives. As an equivalent, we dll it Dao. As it operates silently and is without substand, it is not possible to provide images for it. Only when the functioning of being reaches its zenith do the merits of nonbeing become manifest. Therefore, even though it so happens that the numinous is not restricted to place and change and is without substance, yet the Dao itself can be seen: it is by investigating change thoroughly, that one exhausts all the potential of the numinous. and it is through the numinous that one clarifies what the Dao is. Although yin and yang are different entities, we deal with them in terms of the unity of nonbeing. When the Dao is in he Yin state, it does not actually exist as yin, but it is by means of yin, that it comes into existence, and when it is in the yang state, it does not actually exist as yang, but it is by means yang that it comes into being. This is why it is referred to as ‘the reciprocal process of yin and yang.

(It is important for me to point out that the choice of the word “state” is not quite right. The Dao, the infinite, absolute Oneness, doesn’t have any “states,” and for that matter neither does a process. A phase or stage may be a better choice of words. As an analogy, we can liken the reciprocal process of the Dao to our own phases of waking and sleeping. which like yand and yin, are different phases. Thus, when the Dao is in its Yin phase, it is dormant. Unlike our own sleep phase, the Dao’s dormancy can last for eons. Does this mean that the Dao is completely still, empty. No, that is why Wang Bi states “it does not actually exists as yin.” Let’s use the analogy of breathing to explain. When we are in our sleep phase, Yin, usually at night, are we completely empty and still? Do we exhale as we enter our Yin phase then never inhale and fill up? No, not at all. Though we are dormant, we continue our breathing cycle throughout the night despite it being an unconscious process. The same is true for our waking phase, Yang. Our breathing cycle, though usually not a conscious process unless there is a problem, continues from exhale to inhale throughout the day. The same is true for the Dao. At this moment, the Dao is in its Yang phase, having manifested as the living Universe or Nature. Still, the Dao cannot be said to actually exist as yang because its energy cycle of Yin stimulating Yang and vice versa continues through the present eon.)

Continuing Wang’s Commentary on the I Ching, Part 1, Section 5:

That which allows the Dao to continue to operate is human goodness (shan), and that which allows it to bring things to completion is human nature (xing). The benevolent see it and call it benevolence; the wise (zhi) see it and call it wisdom. It function for the common folk on a daily bases, yet they are unaware of it. This is why the Dao of the noble man is a rare thing! {Here, Richard John Lynn, the translator comments: The noble man embodies the Dao and applies it as function, but if it is merely the benevolent and wise, then they are limited to just what they see of it, and if it is the common folk, then it functions for them on a daily basis, but they are unaware of it. Those who truly embody this Dao are they not indeed rare! Thus, as it is said, “always be without desire so as to see its subtlety.” This is how one can begin to talk about its perfection and address its ultimate meaning.}

 (Again, I must point out that the last line which Lynn quotes – “always be without desire so as to see its subtlety” – is the exact wording he uses for Wang Bi’s translation of Laozi’s Tao Te Ching, Chapter 1, paragraph 3. Then in the very next paragraph, Lynn’s translation has Laozi stating “And always have desire to see their ends.” Confusing? Wang Bi explains: “Subtlety is the absolute degree of minuteness. As the myriad things reach completion only after originating in minuteness, {Think back to how each of us started as infinitesimal fertilized cells in our mothers’ wombs}, so they are born only after originating in nothingness. Thus always be without desire and remain empty, so that you can see the subtlety with which things originate.” Then after the fourth stanza, he adds, “Ends here means the ends to which things revert. If anything that exists is to be of benefit, it must function out of nothing. Only when desire is rooted in such a way that it is in accord with the Dao will it prove beneficial. Thus always have such desire that you can see those ends to which things finally arrive.”)

Have a Happy and Safe Halloween, and see you in November.


We start off October with one of Zhuangzi’s famous parables, the story of Cook Ting (Ding)

Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui. At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee – zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music.

“Ah, this is marvelous!” said Lord Wen-hui. “Imagine skill reaching such heights!”

Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now – now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.

“A good cook changes his knife once a year-because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month-because he hacks. I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room – more than enough for the blade to play about it. That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.

“However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I’m doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until – flop! the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.” 

“Excellent!” said Lord Wen-hui. “I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to care for life!”

COMMENTARY: This is a follow up to Zhuangzi’s other classic parable in Chapter 1, the Butterfly Dream, in which Zhuangzi co-stars as the lead character in his own parable along with a butterfly. Uncertain as to whether he is really Zhuangzi dreaming that he is a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming that he is Zhuangzi, he doubts his own existence. Instead, this Self that he has always known himself to be, may actually be a completely different Self. Or, perhaps there is no self. It is obvious the parable points out a stage of self-doubt in Zhuangzi’s life. However, some have said the point is that Zhuangzi actually finds himself in a Buddhist-like state of No-Self, the final goal. But is it? Is that what Zhuangzi really intended?

Well, in the very next Chapter, we find the parable of Cook Ting (Ding) above and realize that this No-Self phase is not a final goal, but to Zhuangzi and Cook Ting. it is only a transition toward the final goal?

Cook Ting says: “When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. (This is the state of ordinary mind or Cheng Xin) After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. (This is the Butterfly Dream stage of No-Self) And now – now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. (This stage is the real final goal of discovering the True Self or Chang Xin.)  I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. (This is following Nature or following the Tao, which is how we reach the Ultimate Self.) So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.” (Laozi advice of not allowing small problems to turn into huge ones).

The final two paragraphs with Cook Ting explaining how he cares for his knife is, as Lord Wen-hui points out, an analogy of caring for one’s life. In the last paragraph Cook Ting alludes to Laozi’s account of sages in antiquity who were adept at practicing the Tao (Chapter 15, Tao Te Ching) as being cautious and vigilant. Practicing wu-wei and following the flow of the Tao, Cook Ting uses caution and vigilance when he approaches a complicated section of the ox.

This parable then is a transition from the Butterfly Dream to a summary of how to reach the final goal or Chang Xin, the True Self which Zhuangzi unveils in full detail a few chapters later in the discussion between Confucius and his disciple Yan Hui in an exercise called the Fasting of the Mind.

The first part where Kungzi (Confucius) instructs his disciple, Yan Hui and details the “Fasting of the Mind” occurs in Chapter 4. The follow-up, where Yan Hui returns having completed the full practice is written in Chapter 6. Bear in mind that the Cook Ting parable which appears in Chapter 2 is actually a very brief summary of the entire process.

The prelude to the actual detailing of the Fasting of the Mind in Chapter 4 is quite long, so I will summarize. It begins with Yan Hui coming to Kongzi (Confucius) to ask permission to take leave after years of studying with him. Yan Hui explains that he wants to go out into the world and put what he has learned from Kongzi into practice.

Kongzi asks him how he intends to do this. Yan Hui replies that he wants to go to the State of Wei, where the ruler has become an autocratic tyrant and has wrought great devastation upon the people of Wei. Yan Hui wants to see if he can restore Wei and save the people. Kongzi asks him how he plans to do this.

Yan Hui tells him that he wants to take what he has learned from Kongzi and derive some standards and principles from it to apply to the situation in Wei. Kongzi tells him that he is more than likely to get himself killed. If he is following a certain course, it is best not to mix in anything extraneous which will lead to multiple courses because that will cause anxiety and confusion. Kongzi then proceeds to give Yan Hui a lengthy lecture on real Virtuosity and Cleverness. Then he asks Yan Hui how he plans to get around these all of these problems.

With each solution that Yan Hui puts forth, Kongzi has a wise rebuttal, detailing why each one will not work. Finally, in total frustration, Yen Hui said, “I have nothing more to offer. May I ask the proper way?”

“You must fast!” said Confucius. “I will tell you what that means. Do you think it is easy to do anything while you have [a mind]? If you do, Bright Heaven will not sanction you.”

Yen Hui said, “My family is poor. I haven’t drunk wine or eaten any strong foods for several months. So can I be considered as having fasted?”

“That is the fasting one does before a sacrifice, not the fasting of the mind.”

“May- I ask what the fasting of the mind is?”

Confucius said, “If you merge all your intentions into a singularity, you will come to hear with the mind rather than with the ears. Further, you will come to hear with the vital energy rather than with the mind. For the ears are halted at what they hear. The mind is halted at whatever verifies its preconceptions. But the vital energy is an emptiness, a waiting for the presence of beings. The Course alone is what gathers in this emptiness. And it is this emptiness that is the fasting of the mind.”

Yan Hui said, “Before I find what moves me into activity, it is myself that is full and real. But as soon as I find what moves me, it turns out that ‘myself’ has never begun to exist. Is that what you mean by being ‘empty’?”

Confucius said, “Exactly. Let me tell you about it. With this you can play in his cage without impinging on his concern for a good name. When he’s receptive, do your crowing, but when he’s not, let it rest. Do not let him get to you, but do not harm him either. Seeing all possible dwelling places as one, let yourself be lodged in whichever cannot be avoided. This will get you close to success. It is easy to wipe away your footprints, but difficult to walk without touching the ground. It is easy to use deception when you are sent into your activities at the behest of other humans, but difficult to use deception when sent into activity by Heaven. You have learned how to fly with wings, but not yet how to fly without wings. You have learned the wisdom of being wise, but not yet the wisdom of being free of wisdom. Concentrate on the hollows of what is before you, and the empty chamber within you will generate its own brightness.

“Good fortune comes to roost in stillness. To lack this stillness is called scurrying around even when sitting down. Allow your ears and eyes to open inward and thereby place yourself beyond your mind’s understanding consciousness. Even the ghosts and spirits will then seek refuge in you, human beings all the more so! This is the transformation of all things, the hinge on which Shun and Yu moved, the lifelong practice of Fu Xi and Ji Qu. How much more should it be so for others!”

(Fu Xi was one of the early proponents of the I Ching. Ji Qu or sometimes Ji Zi was a semi-legendary Chinese sage who is said to have ruled Gija Joseon in the 11th century BCE.)

So there we have it. Zhuangzi full From Chapter 6, the co

Yen Hui said, “I’m improving!”

Confucius said, “What do you mean by that?”

“I’ve forgotten benevolence and righteousness!”

“That’s good. But you still haven’t got it.”

Another day, the two met again and Yen Hui said, “I’m improving!”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I’ve forgotten rites and music!”

“That’s good. But you still haven’t got it.”

Another day, the two met again and Yen Hui said, “I’m improving! “

“What do you mean by that?”

“I can sit down and forget everything!”

Confucius looked very startled and said, “What do you mean, sit down and forget everything.’-“

Yen Hui said, “I smash up my limbs and body, drive out perception and intellect, cast off form, do away with understanding, and make myself identical with the Great Thoroughfare. This is what I mean by sitting down and forgetting everything.”

Confucius said, “If you’re identical with it, you must have no more likes! If you’ve been transformed, you must have no more constancy! So you really are a worthy man after all! 23 With your permission, I’d like to become your follower

Thus both Cook Ting and Yan Hui realized their True Selves.

Be well. See you next time.





Chapter 51 Tao Te Ching

As I promised last month, we would start off September with Chapter 51. This is not only one of the most significant chapters in the Tao Te Ching, but in all of spiritual literature, including the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, and the Holy Bible. Below are several translations of Chapter 51 to give you a feel for the different way it has been interpreted.

AUGUST, 2019


Let’s return now to Laozi’s Tao de Ching. Today we shall take a look at Chapter 9, a very important chapter that illustrates one of the main principles of Taoism. Next, to Wu Wei, moderation and knowing when to stop are vital to most sincere Taoists.

“A bow that is stretched to its fullest capacity may certainly snap.
A sword that is tempered to its very sharpest may easily be broken.
A house that is full of jade and gold cannot remain secure for long.
One who proudly displays his wealth invites trouble.
Therefore, resign from a high position when your mission is complete.
This is the Universal Way of a life of deep virtue.”

Translation by Ni Hua-Ching, 1995.

COMMENTARY: Again Laozi is telling us to use moderation in all things, and, above all, know when to stop. Whether it’s food or drink. Moderation means don’t try to fill yourself to capacity. Stop when you are 70% or 80% full, not 100 or beyond.

Whether it’s jade or gold, jewelry, furniture, paintings,cars don’t go overboard. Whether it’s your body or your home, instead of looking stately and refined, it will look garish, opulent – two words that are synonymous with “ugly.” Did you ever see a person who has a large ring on every finger? If so, then you know what I mean by garish, opulent, ugly. Furthermore, when you go overboard, you take away from items that look truly exquisite when given prominence, but are totally lost in a sea of acuterments and are appear no different from a hoarder’s place littered with junk. Not to mention the fact, that such a display of wealth, like Laozi says, invites trouble.

The same is true of money. People who hoard money and work their butts off to make deals and make more money are truly pathetic. Whether it’s money they constantly seek or praise or fame, the result is the same, a sadly pathetic, self-centered nerd. It isn’t wealth, per se, that is damaging. It is seeking wealth for the sole purpose of self-aggrandizement that destroys love, friendships and other relationships. There are many wealthy financiers that have amassed fortunes and have established foundations to help others share in their wealth. They regularly pay their fair share of taxes and give to charities. So, here it is the intent that makes seeking wealth a detriment or a worthwhile activity. By asking the Universe, the Tao, how may I serve and how can the wealth I earn benefit others, your work and your financial acumen become tools for the Tao and the Te to distribute and spread the wealth to the rest of mankind.

Remember, none of this is truly yours, not your money, your possessions, your businesses.not even your very life. All of this belongs to the Tao. The Tao is responsible for everything in the Universe and beyond.

Next up is Chapter 33 of the Tao Te Ching, a verse of comparisons and contrasts that, like Chapter 9, expound further on the Taoist lifestyle.


As promised, Chapter 33 of Laozi’s Tao Te Ching: Self-Denial versus Self-Criticism.

He who knows others is knowledgeable.
He who knows himself is wise.
He who conquers others is physically strong.
He who conquers himself is truly mighty.
He who is contented is rich.
He who acts with persistence has a will.
He who does not lose his root will endure.
He who dies but is not forgotten has longevity.

COMMENTARY: Before I begin, I would like to say that some of you are not going to like this. Perhaps, most of you will not like this. So, I must apologize in advance should I offend anyone.

Many study this chapter and concentrate on the last two lines. Here Keping Wang has translated the very last line correctly as it was written in the oldest versions of the text discovered in the MaWangDui Caves just last century. Prior to those versions, some translators assessed the line differently and combined it with the previous line, building a case for immortality. The translations would be something like “He who keeps to his root will endure and will not perish but remain eternally present.” That would certainly make Laozi roll over in his grave, for he had no uncertainty that death would befall each and every one of us no matter how enlightened. The last two lines are about cultivating one’s “heart,” in other words, one’s daily living, not immortality. Thus, living from one’s “root,” the Tao, will leave a lasting impression on others in one’s everyday affairs, one’s writings, one’s art, friendships and relationships, and on nature, itself, which, in a way, is a form of immortality.

The true emphasis in this chapter is not on the ending but on the beginning, the first four lines. Despite many variations, the general semantics of these lines for the most part have been kept intact. However, Laozi’s true intent has been confused. Martial artists, in general, and tai chi and qigong players, more specifically, are partly responsible for this distortion, not to mention meditation gurus. There is a line in the Tai Chi Classics: “I know you, but you don’t know me.” This line generally means that you know where your opponent’s center is at all times, but he/she does not know where yours is because you are able to hide it quite skillfully. Well, this is not the “know” Laozi had in mind. In fact, he would say that you don’t truly know your opponent or yourself.

Laozi here is emphasizing that deep inward knowledge that goes to the very heart of our character. Back in his day, life was complicated enough. People were not so easy to discern. They by no means wore their hearts on their sleeves but kept it hidden deep underneath all the layers with innuendo, deceit, selfishness, not only hidden from the world but hidden from themselves by a facade of benevolence and generosity. In this case, if one were to somehow discern the true character of others, he/she would be considered quite knowledgeable, truly intelligent.

So, by “knowing,” Laozi is referring to discerning one’s true character, ours or others. And, as difficult as that was in his day, imagine the complexity and illusiveness in our modern world. We have so many technical innovations to hide from and hide behind that it is virtually impossible to discern a person’s true character. Add to these, the psychological shadings, the self-denials and the repressions, the Freudian concepts of infantile sexuality, libido, the Oedipal complex, transference or the Jungian archetypes: the shadow, the wise old man, the child, the mother, the maiden, and the anima and the animus. Is it any wonder that you need to be a genius to truly know someone? Laozi says that a person who can do that, such as Freud or Jung, is knowledgeable, which means highly intelligent – but not necessarily wise.

Wisdom, on the other hand as Laozi tells us, arises when we are able to dig deeply inside and cut through all the self-denials and buried feelings that we have repressed over the years and truly come to know ourselves. It is not sitting on a mat and taking deep breaths as some meditation gurus advise or visualizing beautiful, calming scenes or vibrating light rays. It is not following your thoughts until they dissipate, leaving your mind empty. It is not your mind that needs to empty. It is your heart, the very core of your being. That is exactly why Laozi says: He who conquers others is physically strong. But…He who conquers himself is truly mighty. 

Emptying and clearing out our hearts requires an enormous amount of intestinal fortitude, persistence, and spiritual strength to cut through all those self-denials and repressed feelings that we have not only hidden from the world but have hidden from ourselves. It requires a supreme act of self-criticism rather than the self-denial we have become used to.  Reciting affirmations and platitudes are nice. Going around feeling you are pure awareness, consciousness or emptiness is just another form of self-denial, one more case of avoidance. None of these things can take the place of self-criticism and deep introspection.

Refusing to accept responsibility is another form of self-denial. Often, we are aware of things that we have done that we are not so proud of. But we shift the blame to others – parents, siblings, teachers, close friends, lovers – as though they were responsible for our actions. Nothing could be further from the truth. No one can force you to do anything unless they are holding a gun to your head. You chose to follow the crowd and do what they were doing. You chose not to be an outcast. Years later, looking back on those actions, we tell ourselves it was not our fault. So emptying the heart is as much about accepting responsibility as it is about plunging into the depths of one’s heart of hearts.

Once you have toughed it out and emptied your heart, then the final four lines of Chapter 33 will fall into place. You will naturally feel contented with what you have. After persisting to empty the heart, you will feel that your will is strong enough to persist in anything. Finally, you will know yourself and, therefore, know your root, which is the Tao, and that will endure for the rest of your life. Everything you do will be in harmony with the Tao and Nature, thus leaving a legacy that will endure far beyond a long life.

I hope this commentary helps you to better understand Chapter 33 and what needs to be done.

Until next time…Peace.


We end August with a look at Chapter 52 of the Tao Te Ching. Chapter 52 seem like a natural thematic progression from Chapter 33 above. So, we will circle back and cover Chapter 51 in September.

Chapter 52

There was a beginning of the universe
Which may be regarded as the Mother of the Universe.
From the Mother, we may know her sons.
After knowing the sons, keep to the Mother.
Thus, one’s whole life may be preserved from harm.

Stop its apertures,
Close its doors,
And one’s whole life is without toil.

Open its apertures,
Be busy about its affairs,
And one’s whole life is beyond redemption.

He who can see the small is clear-sighted;
He who stays by gentility is strong.
use the light,
And return to clear-sightedness –
Thus cause not yourself later distress.
– This is to rest in the Absolute.
Translation by Lin Yutang


In the Lin Yutang edition, he titles this chapter “Stealing the Absolute,” which refers to the final verse. Discussing the opening verse, he states:”In this chapter, Mother refers to the Tao, source of all things, and her sons refers to the things of the universe, which are Tao in its manifested forms. By recognizing that all things come from the same source and by keeping to the unity, one achieves an emancipation of the spirit which overcomes the individuality of things.”

There are several astounding insights in this opening verse. First of all, Laozi unequivocally asserts that Tao is the source of all life, simply by referring to it as the Mother of the universe. Also, as Lin Yutang contends, the Tao actually manifests itself in all the things within the universe. Laozi then instructs us to keep to the Mother (the Tao, the Unity) rather than the individual appearances.

However, it is by scrutinizing, observing the sons’ appearances that we get to know the Tao as their origin and “Thus, one’s whole life may be preserved from harm.

As in Chapter 33, the second verse advises us to go inward by stopping the openings (the apertures). In other words, our five senses. Then Laozi adds “close its doors”  – to seeking external knowledge “And one’s whole life is without toil.”

In the third verse, Laozi describes what will happen if we do not take his advice and leave the apertures and doors open, busying ourselves with external affairs. “And one’s whole life is beyond redemption.”

In the final verse, Laozi again uses contrasts and comparisons “He who can see the small…” is another reference to turning within and scrutinizing both ourselves and others. “He who stays by gentility”  mean knowing how to yield is strength. Finally, to use your inner light for understanding ourselves and others is actually using the light of the Tao – the Absolute. This is the reason Lin Yutang decided to title the chapter “Stealing the Absolute.”

I hope this commentary has made it easier for you to understand the chapter and to better follow the Tao. As I mentioned in the beginning, we will circle back and cover Chapter 51 in the September edition.

JULY, 2019


We start July off with the first two verses of Chapter 47 from Laozi’s Tao Te Ching. Although most of the accepted translations are consistent, their meaning has certainly been misinterpreted by both Western and Eastern scholars alike.

Chapter 47 begins with:

Without going out-of-doors,
one may know all under Heaven.
Without looking out one’s window,
one may know the Dao of Heaven.

Many Western scholars have called this pure bunk. Taking Laozi quite literally, they wonder how anyone can know everything there is to know. Can a sage tell you who will win the World Series or the Super Bowl? Can he or she know all the answers to the most perplexing questions facing quantum physicists? No, of course not. But Laozi, when he writes all under Heaven, was not referring to mundane, worldly things. To Laozi, all referred to only those things that truly matter.

To illustrate the point, there is a quotation from the great martial artist, Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, which is the Japanese equivalent of Tai Chi. Sensei Ueshiba states: Keep to your Path, and nothing else will matter. When you lose your desire for things that do not matter, you will be free.

To both Ueshiba and Laozi, those things that we see or study or imagine are eye and mind candy – things that do not matter. They are the externals of this world. What matters to a true sage is Li, the Chinese term for Principle.

So, when Laozi uses the term all, he is referring to the principles that have created and set in motion all under Heaven. If you understand the principles underlying matter, you can infer what will happen. That creator and master of the entire cosmos is, of course, the Tao, and one of the Tao’s underlying principles is its constancy. Because the Tao is constant, it is possible for us who live in the present and an ancient sage, who lived 2500 years ago, to know how things were at the beginning to time without stepping out-of-doors.

Wang Bi, who commented on both the Tao Te Ching and the I Ching, some 2000 years ago in the 3rd Century wrote: The Tao has its great constancy and Principle has its perfection, so hold on to the Tao of old to preside over what exists now. Although we live in the present, it is possible for one to know how things were at the beginning of time.

Another underlying principle is the congruence of all things under Heaven.  No matter how disparate beings are, no matter how varied our paths in life, we all come to the same end. Therefore, commenting on Section 5 in the Commentary on Appended Phrases, Part Two of the I Ching, Wang Bi writes: The Master said: “What does the world have to think and deliberate about? As all in the world ultimately comes to the same end, though the roads to it are different, so there is an ultimate congruence in thought, though there might be hundreds of ways to deliberate about it. So what does the world have to think and deliberate about? (Both Wang Bi quotes were translated by Richard John Lynn.)

There is as well a subtle subtext running through the Tao Te Ching, which is somewhat evident in Chapter 47, that of isolation. Whether one runs off to a mountain cave or shuts himself/herself off in their home, the intent is the same – to isolate oneself from the myriad distractions of society and to develop an inner sense of contentment and quietude. Only then can we hope to unite with the Tao. Zhuangzi, on the other hand, has a completely different attitude. His is a sense that “I live in the world but not of it.”

There is yet another way of looking at Laozi’s remarks in this chapter. Keping Wang, a present day author and commentator on the Tao had this to say regarding Chapter 47: “With more and more people practicing qigong as a form of traditional Chinese breathing with stylized movements for spiritual meditation and as more of its effects have come to be rediscovered, some scholars have come to realize the implications of what Laozi says here.” Wang goes on to mention Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, and how he reached supreme wisdom or enlightenment after sitting under a tree for 49 days. “Since then such notions as ‘inner or heavenly enlightenment for attaining Buddhahood’ have come to be used in Buddhism. Correspondingly, in early Daoism, there are such similar notions as ‘understanding without seeing’ and ‘contemplation in depth’.” 

Here are a couple you can try. This first one is  Bone Marrow Cleansing, Xi Sui Jing.

This next one is Qi Gong Breathing from Shaolin Temple Europe


The final two verses of Chapter 47 seemed even more preposterous to Western scholars than the first. However, if one understands the concepts behind Laozi’s opening verses, then these final ones naturally follow.

The further one goes out, the less he will know.

This simply means that one does not live in the One, trusting it and following the Tao, but instead he follows society and places his trust in the many outside. He can never discover the inner principles working the Universe with all the diversified theories, opinions and beliefs floating around outside his door. They will only bring him confusion, not true knowledge.

Thus the sage knows without moving about (in the external world),
Understands without seeing,
Accomplishes without doing.

Here Laozi is basically stating what I have explained above. The sage doesn’t need to run around out in the world or look about to see what sights he can find. Instead, he focuses within where he finds his true nature and thus understands the nature of things without seeking it externally.

This verse also alludes to Taoist meditation, which Keping Wang explained in his commentary on Chapter 47. The early Daoists were quite familiar with meditation and the value of contentment and quietude as were the Rishis of India even before Shakyamuni.

The final line, “Accomplishes without doing,” refers to another subtext that runs all through the Tao Te Ching – Wu Wei – often translated as the practice of non-doing.or non-action. What wu wei really means is take no conscious or deliberate action but instead act spontaneously with the flow of life, the flow of the Tao and not with the urges of an egoic mind.

Speaking of flow, next time we will stay with the Tao Te Ching and look at Chapter 48, which flows naturally from the concepts explained here in Chapter 47.

So, until next time, Be Well and Go with the Flow…


Like Chapter 47 which proceeds it, Chapter 48 has been misunderstood by some Western scholars. Why would anyone want to pursue the Tao if it makes one lose more and more each day, they ask. So, let’s have a look:

The pursuit of learning means having more each day,
The pursuit of Tao means having less each day.
Having less upon less, one eventually reaches the point where one
takes no action, yet nothing remains undone.

Again, the is typical Laozi, where the statements at first seem rather contradictory. However, upon closer look, we see what the Master intended. If he were, like many self-help gurus, trying to stoke our ambitions and the pursuit of worldly success in the form of greater wealth, position and esteem, then, by all means, one should pursue worldly knowledge. But Laozi’s focus is on our spiritual well-being and eventual discovery of who and what we truly are. 

In Chapter 47, Laozi advised that it was not necessary to go out into the world to learn all you needed to know. One could discover the truth about oneself and the principles underlying the world by staying right at home. So too, in Chapter 48, he tells us that it is not necessary to run off to a university to gain more knowledge in order to live the perfect life. In fact, he suggests that we lose what we know – the concepts, beliefs, opinions and preconceived notions – in order to know the Tao. Thus, it is not a matter of gaining more and more each day but losing more and more until we are at the point of wu wei (non-action) or taking no deliberate action. Laozi realizes that conscious, deliberate action, which is often quite rash and always egocentric, can lead to mistakes and sometimes utter failure. However, no conscious action (wu wei) is spontaneous and natural and will result in nothing being undone.

Laozi then closes the chapter, this way:

One who takes all under Heaven as his charge
always tends to matters without deliberate action.

But when it comes to one who takes conscious action,
Such a one is not worthy to take all Heaven under his charge.

Because one tries to implement actions from his own egocentric pursuits, he is not fit to lead, manage or govern. He is trapped by his own ambitious concerns and enslaves his very soul and eventual salvation with the padlocks and chains of insufferable advancement.

I remember years ago, it was the standard to have a high school diploma for employment. A few years later, a high school education was of much less value. A college degree became the standard. Then a few years later, it was necessary to have an advanced degree, especially a doctorate. So what if you were up to your neck in student debt? Now it’s not only an advanced degree but a dual major, and student loan debt has gone through the roof. 

So, it is not only ourselves, but society as a whole that drives us. Everywhere we turn, we are bombarded with advertisements on billboards, on TV, on the internet. All encouraging us to buy more, to acquire more for our own good, it would seem. But what about our spiritual well-being? How can we acquire that? What price salvation?

Well, in Chapter 48, Laozi gives us the answer. The price is everything we have acquired – not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well. Give up everything that is not essential and especially all those concepts, beliefs and ambitions that keep us chained to the powertrain of society.

Next time we will step away from Laozi and take a look at some of Zhuangzi’s work, particularly a story that follows up Laozi’s admonitions in Chapter 48.

Thank you and Be Well.


From the Zhuangzi, the Book of Zhuangzi


“IS THERE SUCH A THING as perfect happiness in the world or isn’t there? Is there some way to keep yourself alive or isn’t there? What to do, what to rely on, what to avoid, what to stick by, what to follow, what to leave alone, what to find happiness in, what to hate?

This is what the world honors: wealth, eminence, long life, a good name. This is what the world finds happiness in: a life of ease, rich food, fine clothes, beautiful sights, sweet sounds. This is what it looks down on: poverty, meanness, early death, a bad name. This is what it finds bitter: a life that knows no rest, a mouth that gets no rich food, no fine clothes for the body, no beautiful sights for the eye, no sweet sounds for the ear.

People who can’t get these things fret a great deal and are afraid – this is a stupid way to treat the body. People who are rich wear themselves out rushing around on business, piling up more wealth than they could ever use – this is a superficial way to treat the body. People who are eminent spend night and day scheming and wondering if they are doing right – this is a shoddy way to treat the body. Man lives his life in company with worry, and if he lives a long while, till he’s dull and doddering, then he has spent that much time worrying instead of dying, a bitter lot indeed! This is a callous way to treat the body.”

COMMENTARY: I think you get the picture without much explanation from me. Zhuangzi’s message is quite clear: the things we chase after that we think will make us happy cause us much more harm than good. Those who live a life of wealth and luxury usually wear themselves, “piling up more wealth than they could ever use. In the end, our health deteriorates from all the stress and pressure and drives us to an early grave. The outcome, though the path is very different, is the same for those who worry and fret because they do not have the so-called finer things in life. As Zhuangzi intimates perhaps an early death would be much better than a lifetime of worrying. So, whether one is rich or poor it does not matter. In the end it is all the same. The poor struggle and die trying to get what they don’t have. The wealthy struggle and die trying to get even more of what they have, searching and striving constantly for more pleasure and more comfort.

But what about those people we look up to and consider good human beings? Do they ever find true happiness? Let’s hear what Zhuangzi has to say…

“Men of ardor are regarded by the world as good, but their goodness doesn’t succeed in keeping them alive. So I don’t know whether their goodness is really good or not. Perhaps I think it’s good – but not good enough to save their lives. Perhaps I think it’s no good – but still good enough to save the lives of others. So I say, if your loyal advice isn’t heeded, give way and do not wrangle. Tzu-hsu wrangled and lost his body. But if he hadn’t wrangled, he wouldn’t have made a name. Is there really such a thing as goodness or isn’t there?”

COMMENTARY: Here Zhuangzi is speaking of good officers and ministers of the government, “Men of ardor.” like Tzu-hsu. But we can apply this to the politicians, missionaries, doctors and nurses, soldiers and general volunteers and do-gooders of today. Tzu-hsu spoke out against the unjust policy of his sovereign. When his advice wasn’t heeded, he did not stop there as Zhuangzi suggests. Instead he continued to wrangle with his king and was eventually put to death. In the end, he stood up for what he believed in but lost his life. Was the honor he gained by his actions worth it? Did it bring him happiness? What about Mother Teresa in the modern era? Did her years of charitable work bring her happiness? Yes, she helped many, and maybe even saved a few lives. But her personal writings revealed a crisis of belief, her loneliness, her desolation. How should we think about that? Zhuangzi leaves that decision to us…

“What ordinary people do and what they find happiness in – I don’t know whether such happiness is in the end really happiness or not. I look at what ordinary people find happiness in, what they all make a mad dash for, racing around as though they couldn’t stop – they all say they’re happy with it. I’m not happy with it and I’m not unhappy with it. In the end is there really happiness or isn’t there?

I take inaction to be true happiness, but ordinary people think it is a bitter thing. I say: perfect happiness knows no happiness, perfect praise knows no praise. The world can’t decide what is right and what is wrong. And yet inaction can decide this. Perfect happiness, keeping alive – only inaction gets you close to this!”

COMMENTARY: Actually, that is pretty good advice. Now I must remind you, as I mentioned in my earlier comments on Laozi’s Tao Te Ching, by “inaction” Zhuangzi is not speaking about no-action, but rather no deliberate, premeditated action, no scheming day and night and wondering if you are doing the right thing and how it could turn out or what could go wrong. Instead, he means “ziran” natural, spontaneous action, action which is initiated by nature and the natural Way of things. Then Zhuangzi concludes…

“Let me try putting it this way. The inaction of Heaven is its purity, the inaction of earth is its peace. So the two inactions combine and all things are transformed and brought to birth. Wonderfully, mysteriously, there is no place they come out of. Mysteriously, wonderfully, they have no sign. Each thing minds its business and all grow up out of inaction. So I say, Heaven and earth do nothing and there is nothing that is not done. Among men, who can get hold of this inaction?”

COMMENTARY: If this sounds familiar, it should. Zhuangzi is reminding us of Laozi’s advice in chapter 37 of his Tao De Ching: “The Tao invariably takes no action. And yet there is nothing left undone.” And again in chapter 38: “The man of the superior De (Virtue, Character) takes no action. And thus nothing will be left undone.”

More from the Zhuangzi next time.


The next two stories are from section 18 of the Zhunagzi

“Once a sea bird alighted in the suburbs of the Lu capital. The marquis of Lu escorted it to the ancestral temple, where he entertained it, performing the Nine Shao music for it to listen to and presenting it with the meat of the T’ai-lao sacrifice to feast on. But the bird only looked dazed and forlorn, refusing to eat a single slice of meat or drink a cup of wine, and in three days it was dead. This is to try to nourish a bird with what would nourish you instead of what would nourish a bird. If you want to nourish a bird with what nourishes a bird, then you should let it roost in the deep forest, play among the banks and islands, float on the rivers and lakes, eat mudfish and minnows, follow the rest of the flock in flight and rest, and live any way it chooses. A bird hates to hear even the sound of human voices, much less all that hubbub and to-do. Try performing the Hsien-ch’ih and Nine Shao music in the wilds around Lake Tung-t’ing when the birds hear it they will fly off, when the animals hear it they will run away, when the fish hear it they will dive to the bottom. Only the people who hear it will gather around to listen. Fish live in water and thrive, but if men tried to live in water they would die. Creatures differ because they have different likes and dislikes. Therefore the former sages never required the same ability from all creatures or made them all do the same thing. Names should stop when they have expressed reality, concepts of right should be founded on what is suitable. This is what it means to have command of reason, and good fortune to support you.”

COMMENTARY: The moral of this story is fairly easy to see. I could some it up in one brief cliche: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” The point is everything, man, beast, bird or fish, should live according to its nature. Though we are all equal, we are not all the same. In fact, each one of us is different from everyone else. We speak different languages, eat different foods, read different books, enjoy different sports, different music, practice different religions. Realizing this will help each of us accept what others are doing according to their nature, not ours. And acceptance has a tremendous healing effect on us and on those around us. Just remember the title of that popular Ray Stevens’ song: “Everything is Beautiful…in its own way.”

This next one has a key lesson for all martial artists…

Chi Hsing-tzu was training gamecocks for the king. After ten days the king asked if they were ready.

“Not yet. They’re too haughty and rely on their nerve.”

Another ten days and the king asked again.

“Not yet. They still respond to noises and movements.”

Another ten days and the king asked again.

“Not yet. They still look around fiercely and are full of spirit.”
Another ten days and the king asked again.

“They’re close enough. Another cock can crow and they show no sign of change. Look at them from a distance and you’d think they were made of wood. Their virtue is complete. Other cocks won’t dare face them, but will turn and run.”

The true warrior must drop all emotionality before they get into the ring. They need to let their competitive nature take over and drive them, not their wills or their their desires to win or the fear of losing face. All of these must be dissolved until only their fearless nature is reached. The same is true for sages as well. They must drop all emotionality and all worldly desires. Like a sculptor cutting away at marble, chipping off chunks and pieces here and there until the correct image appears, all must be cut away until one’s De (Virtue or True Character) is reached.